The Angelina Effect: Revisited

Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy decision might have raised breast cancer awareness among women


A decision A-list actress Angelina Jolie made two years ago might have had some lasting impacts on women's health awareness.

Two years ago, Jolie shocked the world by announcing that she had undergone a procedure to have both of her breasts removed due to her genetically high risk of breast cancer. And Austrian researchers recently took a look into the lasting impact of that decision.

In a new study, these researchers found that Jolie's decision to undergo a double mastectomy and subsequent reconstructive surgery might have improved public awareness about breast cancer screening and reconstructive surgery options for mastectomy patients.

These findings suggest that the media could potentially play an important role in improving knowledge of health-related topics among the general public in the future.

"This is the first prospective report to prove the media's effect on the healthcare-related issue of breast cancer among the general public, which was based on an ... initial poll on breast reconstruction [that] was conducted a month before Mrs. Jolie's announcement," said lead study author David Benjamin Lumenta, MD, in a press release. "Since individual choice will become a driving force for patient-centered decision-making in the future, cancer specialists should be aware of public opinion when consulting patients with breast cancer."

Dr. Lumenta is an expert in plastic, aesthetic and reconstructive surgery at the Medical University of Graz in Austria.

In May 2013, TIME Magazine published a cover story called "The Angelina Effect," related to Jolie’s decision to undergo the procedure after she tested positive for a mutated BRCA1 gene — a gene which put her risk of breast cancer at 87 percent.

After Jolie's double mastectomy to remove both her breasts, her doctors put that number at just 5 percent. Jolie currently has no signs of breast cancer.

The TIME article, among others about Jolie, generated considerable media attention. To study the potential effects on public awareness generated by the media's coverage, Dr. Lumenta and team conducted two online polls — one before and one after Jolie's announcement. Both polled 1,000 women each.

After the announcement, 4 percent more women were aware that reconstructive surgery was possible after a single or double mastectomy.

There was also an 11 percent increase in awareness that breast reconstruction can be achieved with the use of one's own tissue, and that it can be performed during a breast-removal operation.

About 20 percent of the women surveyed also said that the media's coverage of Jolie's announcement had made them "deal more intensively with the topic of breast cancer."

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women with a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancer be screened for harmful BRCA1 gene mutations. Because these mutations are relatively rare, patients who do not have cancer or a family history of cancer are not recommended for screening.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in US women. In 2015, there were more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the US.

This study was published Sept. 28 in the journal Cancer.

The Austrian Burn Treatment, Research, and Prevention Study Group funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.